Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 - costs disclosure and expert evidence

The Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 was recently introduced into the Victorian Parliament by Attorney-General Robert Clark and is currently being considered by the lower house. The Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 is an amendment to the Civil Procedure Act 2010.

The explanatory memorandum of the Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 notes that it is being introduced to give additional powers and discretions for the Courts in relation to costs disclosure and expert evidence:
The Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 amends the Civil Procedure Act 2010 to introduce specific powers and discretions for the courts in relation to costs and expert evidence, to amend and create greater flexibility in the overarching obligations and proper basis certification requirements and to make other technical amendments.

The Bill aims to reduce costs and delays for persons involved in civil litigation in Victoria, and improve the effectiveness of the civil justice system. The Bill builds on the foundation established by the Civil Procedure Act 2010 in seeking to give judges and magistrates a clear legislative mandate to proactively manage cases in a manner that will promote the just, efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of the real issues in dispute in a civil proceeding.
Part 2 of the Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 gives the Court power to require costs disclosure to a lawyer's own client, and expands the type of costs orders which are able to be made:
Disclosure of litigation costs by a lawyer to his or her client is critical for informed decision-making. The Bill gives the courts a discretionary power to order that a lawyer make costs disclosure to the lawyer's own client. The order may be made at any stage of the proceeding. This will allow the courts, in appropriate cases, to increase the parties' access to information in relation to actual and estimated costs and disbursements incurred prior to trial, thereby encouraging more informed decision-making and the settlement of appropriate cases. 
The Bill also clarifies and strengthens the courts' discretionary power to make other costs orders aside from the usual order that the losing party pay the winning party's costs. The Bill provides that the court may make any costs order that it considers appropriate to further the overarching purpose. Specific powers include ordering costs as a lump sum figure instead of taxed costs, ordering a party to pay a proportion of costs or fixing or capping recoverable costs in advance. Such orders avoid or narrow the scope of a taxation of costs. The objective is to increase the use of other costs orders in appropriate cases, thereby reducing the complexity, time and cost associated with taxation. Orders may be made in relation to any aspect of a proceeding, including, but not limited to, any interlocutory proceeding.
Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 gives the Court greater power to manage expert evidence, including requiring parties to seek directions if the party intends to adduce expert evidence at trial, ordering conferences and joint reports and limiting expert evidence in Court:

Expert evidence plays a critical role in civil litigation and is often essential to the just determination of an issue in dispute between the parties. However, expert evidence can also be a significant source of expense, complexity and delay in civil litigation. For example, the disproportionate use of expert witnesses has the potential to increase costs and delays for parties and reduce the effectiveness of the civil justice system as a whole. The inherent complexity and volume of expert evidence can also limit its usefulness to decision-makers.

The main objective of the expert evidence provisions is to reduce the costs and delays associated with expert evidence by providing clear legislative guidance and encouragement for the courts to actively manage and control expert evidence. The provisions also aim to improve the quality and integrity of expert evidence and enhance its usefulness to judges and magistrates.

Some of the expert evidence provisions consolidate existing powers of the courts, for example in the rules of court and practice directions. Although the existing powers of the court may be sufficient for the court to give directions and impose reasonable limits on any party in respect of expert evidence, clear statutory provisions will have greater impact in encouraging the courts to actively manage and control expert evidence. This will also resolve any argument about the limits of existing rule-making powers and will overcome any constraints on the exercise of powers that exist at common law.
Finally, the Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 amends the certification requirements, including extending certification to any 'substantive document' that a party relies on (with some qualification).

The expert provisions appear to be detailed and, if the Civil Procedure Amendment Bill 2012 is passed and given Royal Assent, practitioners will need to quickly get up to speed with the detail in the bill. The proposed commencement date is 1 May 2012 or on proclamation.

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